Monday, May 21, 2012

Blazing Saddles..cutting edge social commentary

The other night I was channel surfing and ran across arguably one of the most intense and penetrating examinations of the human condition ever filmed. I am referring, of course, to the 1974 Mel Brooks classic...Blazing Saddles. It had it all, a veritable Sociological and Psychological feast, leaving no stone of our existence unturned. The films plot illustrates the breathtaking sweep of 20th century pathologies...a corrupt political boss and an incompetent and degenerate governor, seeking to destroy the town of Rock Ridge to make way for a railroad, conspire together to send the town a black sheriff, counting on the natural racism of the town's citizens and hoping that the resulting race riots will do the destroying for them. Sherrif Bart, befriended by Jim, a washed-up gun-slinger, confounds the devious strategy by winning the town's respect and uniting them with the exploited railroad workers and against the evil Hedley LaMarr. Along the way we are treated to countless memorable scenes, from farting cowboys to a German barroom singer, Lili Von Shtupp, who with a hilarious lisp says, "Oh, a wose...a wed wose. How womantic!"

The trouble with Blazing Saddles is that it could never in a million years be made today. It offends...practically everyone. It lampoons every demographic imaginable from rednecks, to gays. It uses the "n" word prodigiously with stunning effect.

Let's see, in that one scene Brooks manages to desecrate the Holy Bible, play up the classic fear of black sexuality, and illustrate the ignorance of country people, all in 3 and a half minutes! For my generation, the line, "Excuse me while I whip this out" became a staple of locker room humor for at least ten years. Other tag lines from this film that lived long and productive lives were, "Where the white women at?" and " Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!"

Even Mel Brooks seemed to know he was over-doing it with the slurs. Once Hedley Lamars' plan to poison Rock Ridge with a black sheriff begins to fail he turns to plan B which is to recruit a notorious band of outlaws and turn them loose on the poor town to pillage it into submission. Lamar's speech is a thing of beauty, and the last group of bad guys is simply perfect:

"I want rustlers, cut-throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits,dimwits, vipers, snipers, Indian agents, Mexican bandits,muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers....and Methodists."

Later in that speech, Brooks even manages to rip himself when he has Hedley say, "Men, you are about to embark on a great crusade to stamp out runaway decency in the world. Now, you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor."

Great stuff.